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Rugby referee Nigel Owens speaks out about hiding his sexuality

Ella Braidwood April 9, 2019
Nigel Owens

BARNET, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Referee Nigel Owens during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Saracens and ASM Clermont Auvergne at Allianz Park on December 11, 2017 in Barnet, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Gay rugby referee Nigel Owens has spoken out about concealing his sexuality, explaining that he once hid a date in a Pizza Hut in Swansea when a former Wales international player walked in.

The Welsh international referee, who publicly came out as gay in 2007, explained that he constantly lived in fear of others discovering his sexuality earlier on in his career.

Speaking in an interview on Ireland’s Ray D’Arcy Show on Monday (April 8), the 47-year-old rugby referee recalled one incident when he was dining with a date in a Pizza Hut in Swansea when former Welsh international Dwayne Peel walked in with his now-wife, Jessica.

I was living a constant lie, says Nigel Owens

“They walked into Pizza Hut and I thought ‘oh my god, if they see me here with this guy, they’re going to guess something,'” said Owens.
“So I told him ‘look, you’ve got to go to the toilet’. So he went to the toilet and hid.

“The pizzas came to the table while I was chatting to Dwayne.

“There were two twelve-inch pizzas. ‘Who’s the other pizza for, then?’ he said. I said ‘it’s just a mate’.

Referee Nigel Owens during a match between the New Zealand and Australia at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 26, 2017 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)

“He stayed in the toilet, I went to the toilet and said ‘look, you can’t come back to the table, you’ve got to go out and I’ll meet you outside’.

“I made an excuse and sort of went, and that was the end of that date, and it went downhill from there.

“You were living a lie, and living in constant fear.”

Nigel Owens opens up about hiding his sexuality earlier on in his career

Owens, who holds the world record for the most test matches refereed, is set to officiate the final of The Union Cup in Dublin, Ireland, in June, which is billed as “Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament.”

In August, Owens revealed that he nearly left rugby after being subjected to homophobic abuse at a New Zealand vs England at Twickenham, southwest London.

“You were living a lie, and living in constant fear.”

—Nigel Owens

The official revealed that he received a personal letter from the then Rugby Football Union chair Bill Beaumont following the incident, which encouraged him to stay in the sport.

“It was New Zealand vs England in Twickenham, I’d had a couple of phone calls asking me what I’d thought about the comments that had been shouted at me,” Owens said in a video for Dove Men+Care as part of its Spirit of Rugby series.

“What we really don’t know is were they true rugby people or were they people that just came along to that game?

“What was difficult, people talking about it and then everyone in the world knows you’re gay. So there was a sense of disappointment, of ‘here we go again’. Even now, after all I’ve been through, there are times where it gets you down and gets you scared.”

Two fans were banned for two years from all matches at Twickenham, after shouting homophobic abuse at Owens during the international game.

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